CTN Expo: Good For Animation Fans, Even Better For Animation Students and Professionals

Every year, the Creative Talent Network (CTN) hosts a special expo celebrating the art of animation just down the street from the most famous animation studios in the world in Burbank, California. CTN was built to help bring those creative talent contributors in the animation community together, measuring the success of the group by how well they achieve that. Each year they are re-evaluating their messaging and the impact of their decisions on the community as a whole every year, and a big way that they do that is when they hold their annual expo at the Burbank Marriott.

While not as high-profile as say, San Diego Comic-Con or even D23 Expo, numerous eyes are already on the CTN Expo, which serves as a multi-day event for students and professionals alike. Don’t expect giant project announcements or big studio marketing events though. What you will find is a beautiful, career-oriented opportunity for eager students and professionals to build their networks and even have their portfolios reviewed by industry experts and representatives from studios around the world.

This year, all the branches of the Walt Disney Company were represented; Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Television Animation, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and Pixar Animation Studios. They were all reviewing portfolios (save for Pixar, who had a sign up saying regrettably, they could not offer that this year) Dreamworks Animation Studios, Nickelodeon Animation, Netflix, and even relative newcomer, Skydance Animation were all present as well. Individual artists were present as well, selling prints, books, and building their networks as well. Fans and students can approach artists like Aaron Blaise (Mulan, The Lion King, Director of Brother Bear), John Pomeroy (The Secret of NIMH, Dragon’s Lair, Pocahontas) and numerous others from the ranks of Warner Bros, Disney, and even Hanna Barbera. Personally, I got to spend quality time talking with Tony Bancroft, widely known for his work on Pumbaa in The Lion King and Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove, where we discussed a film (that never saw the light of day) in a candid way that I feel like wouldn’t happen anywhere else. I spent literal hours just talking with the director of The Brave Little Toaster, Jerry Rees, though admittedly we jumped more to his work in the Disney Parks, namely Cranium Command and The ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.

I also spent some time conversing with Dave Bossert, an animator at Disney during the famed renaissance era who has authored numerous books. His group, The Old Mill Press and their catalog served so enticing to a fan like me, I ended up walking away with several books, including one dedicated solely to the legendary animation desks and furniture at the studio, Kem Weber: Mid-Century Furniture Designs For The Disney Studios.

That’s why this event is a sleeper hit for fans of the artform. While many opportunities exist for students and professionals, anyone who just loves the artform can take a day and enjoy checking out work by some of their favorite artists or attending a panel that might celebrate a current show or film with some behind-the-scenes facts and anecdotes from their creation, from the creators themselves. While this was my first foray into this expo, it surely won’t be my last and I plan on attending again in the future. What sold me? Morning drawing lessons with pros in the hotel’s courtyard, and outdoor lounges where animators share personal stories or special lectures like one I attended that featured legendary animators Andreas Deja and Floyd Norman sharing stories about The Jungle Book and the exhibit currently on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Another surprisingly fun session took place in the hotel’s outdoor quad area that featured the aforementioned Tony Bancroft and his brother, Tom, as they hosted an almost Whose Line Is It Anyway?-style game where three artists (two of them former Disney colleagues, and one student) designed characters based on suggestions from the audience.

The real appeal though, while fans and enthusiasts can have fun, is for the budding student or career professional. While there is the appeal for fans, this is primarily a giant networking event, with portfolio reviews and showcases with all the different studios. Traditional demonstrations are offered, and pop-up seminars and lessons are peppered throughout. While panels feature new film screenings and focus on other animated projects (I attended some for Hamster & Gretel and Monsters at Work among others), others focus on individual studios and their cultures, as well as Q&A situations that usually turned into the best pathways to get a job at that studio.

If you’re a fan, but more so if you’re a student or professional looking to build their network, make it a point to stop by the Burbank Airport Marriott next November for a world of animation and experience all in one building with the CTN Expo.

Tony Betti
Originally from California where he studied a dying artform (hand-drawn animation), Tony has spent most of his adult life in the theme parks of Orlando. When he’s not writing for LP, he’s usually watching and studying something animated or arguing about “the good ole’ days” at the parks.